The Word Killers

November 16, 2010

We’ve all heard about Frank Luntz, the man who taught the GOP to speak so that the sheep would listen. He now runs a company called The Word Doctors, which describes itself as “a powerhouse in the profession of message creation and image management.” The company describes Luntz as “one of the most honored communication professionals in America today.”

So Frank Luntz is an honored message creator and image manager. Honored by whom? Well, the web site lists among its corporate clients Disney and McDonalds and Pepsi. And a Psychology Today article claims that Luntz “gives us valuable insights on how subtle shifts in word usage can mean the difference between success and failure.”

Whether we like it or not, American politics function as a battle, and battles are all about success and failure. Frank Luntz and The Word Doctors know that—and take ample advantage of it for personal gain. According to Time magazine, via The Word Doctors, “If words are a weapon, Frank Luntz is a Samurai.”

So, let me get this straight: The Word Doctors is a powerhouse and Frank Luntz is a Samurai. It sounds like an action movie coming soon to a theater near you. Actually, the work of Frank Luntz and his disciples is near you, all the time. I got a swift, subtle reminder of that just the other day.

George W. Bush was on television promoting his book. Compared to the major lies Matt Lauer let slide by, this was a small moment, but it struck me—maybe because I had recently re-watched Fahrenheit 9/11 and been moved by the footage of protesters on GWB’s inauguration day. When Matt Lauer asked Mr. Bush about those protesters, he replied, “This crowd of activists were, you know, trying to disrupt and ruin the inaugural parade for others.”

“This crowd of activists.” Activists. What hit me like a slap across the face the minute he said the word was how ugly he made it sound. We all know what the GOP has done to the word “activist.” “Activist judges.” I knew it, but still it floored me, because it was so casual, so off-the-cuff.

The definition of the word activist (noun) is as follows:

an especially active, vigorous advocate of a cause, esp. a political cause.

“Activist” has no intrinsic character, good or bad. One may find the cause for which the activist advocates good or bad, but Mr. Bush used the word “activist” in a way that made the word “activist” bad. And I personally resent that.

Activists make up Margaret Mead’s “small group of thoughtful, committed citizens” who can change the world. The activists Mr. Bush spoke of were American citizens vigorously asserting their right to free speech, at a time when they felt that their right to vote had been maimed and debased by a group of thieves. Were they trying to disrupt and ruin the parade? I wouldn’t say that. I’d say they were trying to get out the message that the parade was a sham.

If the Bush inauguration protesters were activists, so are the Tea Partiers, and so are the Operation Rescue folks. They advocate for causes, don’t they? But would Mr. Bush call them activists, in the same faintly disgusted tone I sensed when he was speaking of the people who held up signs expressing their feelings about his rather strange road to the White House?

Doctors heal. I don’t find the Frank Luntz kind of message creation healing. I don’t think perfectly healthy words should be turned into sickening weapons for personal gain. If you disagree with my opinion, perhaps you can get a Word Doctor to rewrite my post. Maybe some “subtle shifts in word usage” can transform my message into one in which Mr. Bush is not a word killer.

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2 Responses to “The Word Killers”

  1. kittyreporter Says:

    Great Post. I just wrote a piece about Luntz and his so-called “Words that Work” that are not necessarily factual or true – – they work based on his focus group questions to find out what pushes people’s buttons. You are right, “activist” was made into a nasty word by the word doctors. Lets remember that our forefathers were activists too.

    Glenn Beck and Fox just want to spread hate and distrust. There need to be more people willing to post more positive messages for creating real solutions instead of creating hate and division.

    • sgaissert Says:

      Thanks so much for your comment. I agree about positive solutions: words that “work” must “work” for creating solutions, not for keeping the status quo of divisiveness, hate, and mistrust.


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